Brando Tan is presently the conductor of Ang Mo Kio Symphonic Band, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School Symphonic Band, Xinmin Symphonic Band and Nanyang Junior College Symphonic Band. He is also the President of the Band Director’s Association of Singapore (BDAS).

(This interview was conducted in July 2011)

What inspired you to take up band directing in the midst of your performing career?

I started playing the Euphonium, Tuba and Trombone inSt.Patrick’s School and went on to  continue playing the trombone under my teacher Mr. David Glosz in St. Andrew’s Junior College. I served my National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces Central Band. After completing my National Service, I started helping out in Commonwealth Secondary School and my alma mater St. Patrick’s School, found conducting invigorating and promptly started my career in conducting back in 1999.

I believe it is the same for everyone: what inspires someone is the ability for them to be able to excel in whatever they undertake. Although there may be some struggle initially, when you see the fruits of your labour and the joy you can give to your students when they go through your band programmes, it will definitely be satisfying and inspirational.

What kind of repertoire do you enjoy? Are there any particular works that you always program for your bands?

I love diversity and will always try to incorporate a wide range of repertoire in my band programme. Some examples of my repertoire would be:

  1. Concert Marches
  2. Overtures
  3. Movies / Broadway Music
  4. Pop / Rock Music
  5. Local Composers
  6. Solo work with Band
  7. Chorales and Slow Tonal Music

What is your conducting style like? What is a typical rehearsal like for you and your students?

I enjoy watching different conductors in concerts and especially during their rehearsals. Leonard Bernstein, Yutaka Sado and Seiji Ozawa are a few of the conductors I look up to.

A typical rehearsal would start with a 45 minutes of technical studies as a band. Quoting from a renowned clinician, “Having a full band warm-up is important to get every musician to focus after a hectic day.” I will also incorporate the training of fundamentals, which they will encounter in their music such as rhythm and articulation exercises.

I love to engage my students during rehearsals by asking them short questions and keeping eye contact during warm ups and technical studies. I always think that this is crucial during rehearsal so that the students will be focused in their music.

“Music should not be judged.” How much do you agree with this statement?

I believe that music is a medium for enjoyment and everyone, young or old, has the right to enjoy music. In the words of Confucius, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without”.

In your opinion, what does it take for someone to be a conductor?

The passion for music and teaching is definitely essential. But beyond that, I have learnt that being passionate and knowledgeable is not enough. You must have the charisma to be able to influence your musicians as well. Passion can be developed and knowledge can be acquired but charisma cannot be taught.

Being a successful band director is very different from being a successful conductor. A band director needs to have a teacher attribute in his character while a conductor is not required to. A successful conductor must be one who has the charisma and direction for his orchestra.

You currently have a few schools under your baton. What have you learnt from teaching students over the years? How do you deal with issues such as someone with a difficult personality, or a student who isn’t playing the part well?

In the beginning of my career, I was task oriented and sought more for music perfection. But as I progressed in my career, I have realized that teaching band is not about attaining perfection but also about motivating students positively. Many a time, taking the effort to understand the student’s problem can motivate the student and bring about huge improvements in the student’s playing.

Over the years, you have worked with both young talents and mature musicians. What challenges do you face while working with these groups of people?

Working with both groups requires one to be as excited and enthusiastic in what they are delivering. There are always challenges, whether you are teaching younger or older musicians. I feel that for younger students, they would require more encouragement and guidance. On the other hand, mature musicians seek a deeper understanding towards the multi-faceted meanings in music.

What are some of the memorable experiences or important moments in your career so far?

It might sound cliché but every moment is an exciting experience for me and an important moment which I will keep in my mind. I treasure every moment in my life as I always believe things happen for a reason.

Could you tell us more about the Music Talent Development Program initiative? What was it established for and how will students benefit from it?

The Music Talent Development Programme was initiated by the MOE CCAB officers who suggested to their management to start this programme for our school bands. MOE then approached Ang Mo Kio Secondary School to pilot this project to see if it is feasible and beneficial to our band students.

In this programme, band members acquire music theory, section tuition with MTDC tutors and full band lessons. Music theory allows members to equip themselves with basic knowledge so that they will have a better understanding of the music they are making.

Section tutors are involved to teach the students good practice routines and to improve their individual technique. They also create ensembles of selected musicians which fosters all the above and helps them grow as student musicians.

Full band lessons will provide them a platform to play in a band with different musicians from different schools,similar to an honour band. Practices are held only once every fortnight. This band encourages the students to have constant awareness between sections, as compared to playing in their own band with rehearsals at least twice a week.

You are currently the president of the Band Directors’ Association of Singapore (BDAS), and part of the Asia-Pacific’s Band Directors’ Association (APBDA). What are some of the upcoming activities for both organizations and how can people be involved?

The BDAS will be organizing the 17th Asia Pacific Band Directors’ Association Conference from 25th – 29th July 2012. Band Directors will be involved with the hosting of foreign bands when they arrive and foreign bands will participate in school exchanges. There will be designated indoor and outdoor performance venues for foreign and local bands to perform so that our local students will be treated to music performances from the Asia-Pacific countries.

I sincerely hope that this platform will bring our band directors closer together when we work towards this first international project.


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.